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Diversity Through Mentorship

Posted on March 23, 2017 by in The OFI Blog

The following is an excerpt from the 2016 Center of Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) Annual Report written by CFCH Intern Coordinator Arlene Reiniger.  You can read the entire 2016 CFCH Annual Report here.

Following the lead of the White House’s commitment to improve the role of minority women and girls in the workforce, we invited young women of color to join our ranks to explore and discover cultural heritage and the role it plays in identity, family, and community.

Six women interned with us throughout the 2016 winter/spring term, each bringing her own perspective of culture and how it fits into her past, present, and future. Charmaine Branch, a graduate of Vassar College in art history and Hispanic studies, was interested in multiracial and multiethnic identities within art of the African diaspora. A freshman at George Washington University and recipient of the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg scholarship, Coumba Gueye has been working on promoting cultural understanding through a project called Anti Bullying Cultural Diversity (ABCD). Victoria Gunawan graduated from Eastern Mennonite University with a major in communications and hopes to work on educational media projects. Gabby Towson, a high school senior at School Without Walls, wanted to learn how to study cultures other than her own. Timmia King came from Howard University, majoring in African American studies with a strong interest in archival work. Holly Zajur, a graduate of the University of Virginia in global development studies and arts administration, looks to the art world to better understand ourselves and other cultures.

“Being in the office provided the opportunity to truly experience the work environment,” Zajur reflected. “As a recent college graduate, I found that aspect very rewarding and really beneficial when moving forward in choosing a career.”

Depending on what they wanted out of their experience here, the women were placed with various projects throughout the Center. They came away learning about how a record label operates through the Smithsonian Folkways sales, marketing, and licensing department; conducting research and helping to organize fieldwork and documentation for a Folklife Festival program; contributing to an issue of FACES magazine about Basque culture; experiencing archival best practices by assisting with preserving, digitizing, and cataloging archival collections; and discovering the world of nonprofit fundraising.

Supervisors and other staff ensured that these women had fulfilling, engaging, and educational experiences. In addition to working on various projects, they participated in many other activities:

• graduate school discussion session • tour of the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections • audio engineering demonstration with Q&A • tour of the National Museum of African Art and discussion with Dr. Johnnetta Cole • multimedia storytelling workshop • pop-up museum activity, Always Something There to Remind Me: A “Keeper” Artifact Collected During My Internship to display a collected artifact and interpret it for visitors • tour of the Kennedy Center and gathering with Kennedy Center interns with facilitated seminar about starting careers in the nonprofit industry

A wide range of backgrounds, interests, and experiences led to rich interactions among the women and staff. The mentorship program is headed into its second cycle early in 2017!